“You have such pretty hair,” a soft, whimsical voice says from behind me.
Inhaling sharply, I whip around, startled from the unexpected intrusion. It’s her.
The girl Jerry was carrying in over his shoulder when I first arrived. The girl with fire and ice in her gaze, and the same creepy smile tipping up her lips that she’s currently wearing.
Long blonde hair curls around her waist, and deep brown eyes stare at me from the doorway. She’s slightly hunched and terribly skinny.
I’m standing at the full-length mirror, attempting to French braid my hair. Rio rudely awoke me this morning by storming in, throwing a soft pair of joggers and a t-shirt at me, and demanding I get ready before slamming the door behind him on his way out. For what, I’m afraid to ask.
My seven days of purgatory are over, and just the thought of being awake makes me nauseous.
I’ve been waiting around for further directions, so to give myself something to do, I’m trying to fix my hair away from my face.
“Uh, hi,” I say, trying to regain my bearings.
I’m instantly on edge, tense beneath her probing gaze. There’s something entirely unnerving about her presence.
She straightens and walks farther into the room, standing several inches above me.
“Do you want my help?”
My instinct is to say no. I very much want to kick her out so that I can breathe again. But it would be wise to make friends with the creepy girl rather than enemies.
So, I nod my head, keeping a close eye on her as she approaches me. She’s wearing a long white gown that is nearly see-through—the curves of her body and her dark nipples apparent. I keep my eyes averted, trying to
give her some semblance of respect that I’m sure she’s missing from the men in this house.
Hesitantly, I turn my back to her and watch her closely through the mirror. She smiles wider, displaying crooked teeth as she reaches for my hair. She presses her entire front into my back, and a sick feeling curdles in my stomach when I feel her nipples brushing against me.
Furrowing my brows, I step away, feeling all kinds of weird. She snickers but doesn’t come any closer.
Instead of gathering my hair together, she pets me. Brushing her fingertips against my cinnamon strands, almost seeming to relish in the feel.
My discomfort worsens, even when she finally gathers all my hair together. She’s gentle with me, though, her eyes glued to her task.
“What’s your name?” she asks, running her hand through my hair to clear out the knots.
“Addie,” I say. “Yours?”
“How did you get your hair so soft?” she asks in place of an answer. I thin my eyes, not liking her avoidance.
“I don’t really do much with it. No heat and no dye.”
She hums, and I arch a brow. “Your name,” I insist. She pauses and holds out a pale hand, and it takes a second to realize she’s asking for the ponytail holder. Blowing out a breath through my nose, I slip the band off my wrist and drop it in her palm.
A few more moments of silence pass, and I don’t soften my gaze, boring holes into her face through the mirror, still waiting for an answer.
“Sydney,” she responds finally, her voice pleasant as she begins to braid. Part of me gets the feeling she made me wait on purpose, like a power move. Nothing she’s doing is outwardly vindictive or cruel—in fact, she’s being incredibly gentle as she twists my hair—but that feeling triggers my
sixth sense anyway.
Like when someone laughs at something you said, but you just know they’re laughing at you, and not with you.
“Francesca wants us to meet her in the pretty room.”
I’ve no fucking idea what the pretty room is. So, when Sydney finishes with my hair and motions for me to follow her, I do so without question.
She leads me down the hallway, a line of girls walking opposite us and towards a room a few doors down from mine.
We file into what looks like a beauty room, Sydney’s nickname for it making sense now. She’s not calling the room pretty, but rather where we go to get pretty.
A long clothing rack lines one wall, with an array of colorful lingerie hanging from it. Three vanities are set up on the opposite side, covered in makeup and brushes. There are a couple of full-length mirrors leaning against another wall and several shoe racks with an assortment of heels lined on each row.
Swallowing thickly, I follow the girls’ lead and stand with them in a straight line facing the door. I assume we’re waiting for Francesca.
“What are—” I start.
“Shh.” A girl cuts off my question, the command short and harsh. Sydney giggles from the other side of me, and I snap my mouth shut, glancing at the one who either is just being a bitch, or has just saved me from getting hurt. Either way, I’ll take my chances and listen.
She has long, brown hair, the tips reaching her butt, and hazel eyes. Her face is stony as she stares straight ahead, but I don’t study her long enough to decipher the emotion swirling in her irises.
She’s tense, that much I can tell. And I’m not sure if it’s for what will happen when Francesca arrives, or because of something else.
Or maybe it’s because she’s been abducted and sold into human trafficking, and no matter what’s happening, it’s all fucking bad.
Moments later, heels echo loudly on the wood as Francesca makes her way up the stairs and down the hallway toward us. I guess that’s one comfort in this house—I’ll always know where Francesca is and if she’s coming. She’s definitely no Casper the fucking ghost with those monstrosities on her feet.
How many blisters did she have to suffer through before her feet were calloused enough to wear those all day, every day?
Twenty? Thirty? Maybe a weird number like forty-two.
When she walks in, her gaze immediately finds mine. I look away instantly, unsure if she’d consider it a challenge if I met her stare.
She walks past me, her fruity perfume lingering as she eyes each of us.
“You all look like shit,” she comments snidely, and I can feel the weight of her glare spearing into the side of my head particularly.
Yeah, ‘cause it was my fucking fault I had been ran off the road and dragged out of a wrecked car. Bitch.
She pauses in front of a girl with fiery hair, lifts a burnt orange lock, and looks at the split ends in disgust.
“I told you to trim these, don’t make me ask again or Jerry gets another night with you,” she comments, dropping the strand and moving on. The girl blinks, a flash of pain there and gone, but Francesca has her eagle eyes focused on her next victim.
A girl with dirty blonde hair and beauty marks splattered on her face and down her neck. Francesca observes them closely.
“We’ve spoken about this, Bethany. Beauty marks are one thing, but moles are unacceptable.” My brows furrow, wondering how one would have any control over that.
“You were told to upkeep on the hair sprouting from these ugly things every day. Why do I see hair?”
The girl—Bethany—shifts uncomfortably. “I’m sorry, Francesca. When I had the flu—”
A sharp slap cuts off her words, the sound ringing in my ears. Bethany is holding her reddened cheek, mouth parted in shock.
“Do you still have the flu?” Francesca snarls.
Bethany shakes her head slowly. “No, ma’am. I broke the fever last night.”
My eyes nearly bulge, but I work to smooth out my expression. This is probably the first day she feels somewhat human again.
“Rocco!” Francesca calls out loudly, causing the six of us to startle. We all seem to straighten our spines at once.
Rio has told me about him, but I haven’t had the displeasure of meeting him yet. If the palpable tension in the air is anything to go by, he’s someone to be feared. They all are, really, but for the first time since meeting these girls, I can taste it.
All except Sydney, apparently. She’s hiding her giggles behind a hand, staring at the door with glee. I shoot her a nasty look, but she’s not paying a lick of attention to me.
Heavy footsteps ascend the steps, each thud rocketing the tension higher. By the time he enters, we’re all made of stone, and Sydney is vibrating with excitement.
His presence is pure evil, and I just know that when this man dies, he won’t go to Hell. He’ll stay in the fourth dimension, where he’ll continue to haunt and terrorize the living.
Rocco is a large man with an even larger gut. Sweat coats his skin as he scans the six of us. He definitely looks like Francesca’s brother, both with hooked noses, tanned skin, and golden-brown eyes.
Though they look related, Francesca is beautiful, whereas Rocco is… not.
The only beauty that has ever touched this man has been at the hands of a woman. Touches that were stolen and came with a steep price that only she paid for.
Francesca nods at Bethany, “She hasn’t been up-keeping the ugly growths on her face.”
Rocco’s eyes snap to the trembling girl, and though he’s not looking at me, the power behind his stare sends a shot of terror through my system. Bethany attempts to keep her face blank, but her entire body is rattling so hard, I can hear her bones knocking together.
Silence descends on the room, so when he opens a switchblade, the sharp metallic ring sounds like a strike of lightning.
Bethany jumps, and I’m not the only other girl that shifts uncomfortably. “P-please, Roc—”
“Don’t speak,” he snaps, his rusty voice sending shivers down my spine. I’ve no idea what he’s going to do, but I am sure of one thing; that voice is going to haunt my nightmares for the rest of my days.
“You’re worthless to us if you’re ugly,” he scolds, walking over to her and clutching her face in his meaty palm. She whimpers as he squeezes her cheeks roughly and jerks her head to the side so he can get a better view of her moles.
She bristles, but somehow forces herself not to fight his hold like a rabid dog. He points the tip of the blade to her skin and slowly starts cutting.
I gasp and go to step forward, but next to me, the brown-haired girl’s hand snaps out and grabs ahold of mine, clenching so hard it’s painful.
And from my other side, Sydney ohhhs like an older sibling who’s watching the younger child get in trouble. I whip my head towards her, fury radiating from every pore in my body.
“What is wrong with you?” I hiss, keeping my voice low.
Sydney’s dark eyes meet mine, and I realize they’re not much different from Rocco’s. Dead and cold.
“A lot,” she answers blandly.
Bethany screams as Rocco continues carving into her face, and I physically cannot hold myself back.
“Aren’t you making her uglier?” I snap. Bethany is by no means ugly, but their logic is backwards. If a mole with a few hairs is such a big deal, how is cutting up her face solving the problem?
They’re scarring her face, for fuck’s sake.
Rocco freezes, and Francesca’s head turns towards me, rage evident through her caked makeup. But something in her expression is what causes instant regret. Not because she’s angry with me for speaking out, no.
Because she won’t be able to save me.
Sydney snickers loudly from beside me and takes a giant step away. Clearly not wanting to be associated with my bad behavior, though the way she’s been acting is repulsive.
I bite my lip, my eyes dropping along with my heart. It begins to thud violently as fear fills my veins and adrenaline circulates deeply throughout my body, making me feel nauseous.
I close my eyes in resignation, hating myself for my lack of self-control. This isn’t like confronting a psychotic stalker. He’s not enigmatic, nor will he toe the line between pain and pleasure. There’s no sick thrill when a disgusting man is staring me down, probably imagining all the worst ways he could defile or murder me.
He isn’t Zade.
Rocco releases Bethany, blood dripping down her face and staining his fingertips. She’s trembling, her face contorted with pain, whimpers leaking past her lips as she reels from having her face cut open.
“What did you say, diamond?” Rocco drawls, his voice dipped in venom.
I tighten my lips, hating that Rick’s nickname is beginning to stick.
Thousands of thoughts race through my head in a matter of seconds. Different scenarios on how I can get out of this unscathed. What I could say or do to calm the violent tornado coming my way, if only it prevents my world from completely crashing down around me. But in the end, I come up blank.
I glance at the brown-haired girl beside me, and she’s staring at me like I’m an idiot. I am an idiot. But fuck, I couldn’t watch a girl get mutilated for having a fucking mole on her face and stand by in silence.
Watch your own back, little mouse. No one else will.
My mouth has dried, and I fear my tongue will shrivel up and crumble from lack of moisture. It’s all been rerouted to my eyes, yet I don’t dare let the tears fall. I lick my lips, wetting them enough so I can push out words, useless as they’ll be.
“Nothing, I’m sorry,” I choke out, keeping my voice small and pleasant. Attitude will undoubtedly result in even worse repercussions, and while I’m successful in that endeavor, I’m unsuccessful in keeping the tremors out of my tone. The fear.
“Stupid girl,” Francesca hisses, her eyes thin and heated. Rocco walks towards me, his candor slow and purposeful as he opens and closes the switchblade. Over and over, each metallic ring pumping dread into my system.
He stops mere inches from me, his beer gut brushing against my stomach and his rank breath burning my nostrils. Jesus, he smells like body odor and week-old cheese that’s been left out in the sun. The little self-control I possess is put towards not cringing from the smell.
“Look at me,” he whispers.
I do, lifting my eyes to meet his cold, deadened stare. A piercing shrill in my ears develops as we glower at each other. It forms deep in the recess of my mind and builds to a crescendo until I can hardly hear a sound outside of it.
It’s a warning. My own body is sounding an alarm, alerting me of the serious damage coming my way. Just like a tornado alarm, right before the deadly twister rips lives to shreds.
His thick palm seizes my throat, his lips curling as he lifts me up to his height, suspending me on the tips of my toes. Instinctively, I claw at his hand, and I assure myself that if I die here and now and Zade finds my body, he’ll know exactly who was responsible based on the skin caked beneath my nails.
Rocco doesn’t flinch, despite how deeply my nails bite into his skin. The edges of my vision darken as my body depletes of oxygen, steadily emptying from my lungs while stars burst across my eyes.
“Don’t kill her. She’s valuable,” Francesca snaps, though her voice sounds far away, like I’m trapped in a vortex.
Snarling, he swings me around and tosses me to the floor like a wadded-up gum wrapper.
I grunt from the impact, landing awkwardly on my right wrist, but before I can lift myself up, he’s climbing on me, his weight suffocating.
Survival instincts immediately kick in, and my fight or flight activates— namely my fight. I twist beneath him and swing my elbows towards his head. But I miss, a weak attempt at knocking out a two-hundred-pound-plus man from on top of me.
“Get off me!” I screech, bucking my hips, desperate to dislodge him. So desperate that I’ve become rabid. I will tear the flesh from my bones with my teeth if it means getting out from beneath him. I will do anything— absolutely anything—to escape.
“Rocco,” Francesca warns, cutting through the sheer panic that has consumed my mind. “She needs to heal.”
“She needs to learn her place. It doesn’t have to hurt,” he argues, breathless from wrangling my struggling body into compliance. He’s failing
—but so am I. I’m weak and still in pain, and he’s so much stronger.
He’s going to win.
“Right, diamond? This could be quick and painless. A little lesson to teach you to keep your fucking mouth shut.”
He bashes my face into the wooden floor, dirt and dust grinding into my face as he rips at my joggers. The fabric tears, the loud ripping noise sending another shot of horror into my system as his excited breathing escalates.
“No!” I shout as he tears at my underwear next. He ignores me and unfastens his jeans, the bite of his zipper coming undone his only response. Rivulets of tears stream down my cheeks as I feel his flesh against my backside.
I try to twist again, but one punch to the back of my head deters me, my world exploding. Pain has been a constant companion this last week, but it’s nowhere to be found now. My mind feels as if I could run a mile, yet my body physically cannot stop this man from defiling me.
“Don’t hit her!” Francesca snaps, more worried about him bruising the apple. But how can that be when I’m going to be fucking rotten by the time
In one thrust, he buries himself inside me, and I scream. Loud and piercing, the pitch matching the shrill ringing in my head.
“Goddammit, Rocco, you’re not wearing a condom,” Francesca shouts, and there’s a soft whisper in my head, wondering how she can stand to watch this. Just stand there, angry that her brother isn’t wearing a condom as he rapes a girl.
He grunts and then laughs as he repeatedly drives himself inside me. “Feels fucking incredible, too.”
There’s nothing I can do to stop him, and the defeat that coats my skin like hot oil fucking burns.
I try to crawl away from him, my nails digging into the wood and anchoring me as I try to pull myself out from beneath him. They bend and break from the pressure, tearing from my skin as he drags me back down, scratches gouging the floor.
He slams into me once, twice more before pulling out and finishing on me. Ribbons of his seed spurt across my back, and I can’t help but gag.
He growls, his palm crashing into the side of my face.
“Rocco!” A heel stomps into the wood in a fit of rage, the vibrations traveling to my bleeding hands.
“Fucking bitch,” he mutters, ignoring her. I gag again, the feel of his essence seeping into my flesh nauseating.
Francesca sighs, rushes over to me, and grabs me roughly by the arm.
“Get up,” she spits, hauling me to my feet. I’m so angry, so distraught from what he just did that I react. As soon as I’m on my feet, I twist at the waist and send my fist flying into his nose. He howls in response, gearing up to charge at me, but Francesca steps between us and blocks him.
“Stay down! You’ve done enough,” she snarls, then drags me out of the room. I’m still naked from the waist down, with blood smudged between my thighs. My body was unaccepting of what he was doing, making the intrusion raw and extremely painful.
She pushes me into my room and slaps me across the face, causing me to stumble. The door slams, and then, “Why did you do that, stupid, stupid girl?”
She slaps me again, and my ears ring from the pain. I grab my cheek, continuing to scramble away from her as she backs me against the wall.
You’re bruising the apple, Francesca.
Her hands grip either side of my face, and her manicured talons dig into my reddened cheeks.
Putting her face in mine, she snarls lowly, “You keep your mouth shut, do you hear me? The men in this house will do everything to make your life hell until you’ve been paid for. And you sure as fuck don’t hit them!”
She shakes me, “Tell me you understand,” she whisper-shouts, keeping her voice quiet.
“I understand,” I cry, my cheeks hot and wet from the constant tears.
Francesca releases me angrily, tearing herself away and shooting a heated glare over her shoulder as she paces the room. I slide down the wall, no longer capable of holding myself up as sobs rack my body. A streak of blood follows me down, and I realize Rocco ripped open the stitches on my back. Spearing my hands through my hair, I grip the strands tight, willing myself to calm.
Deep breaths, Addie. Deep breaths. Just breathe.
Breathe, little mouse…